30+ Hunting Rules to Keep You Safe
Sure, you needed to take a hunting safety class in order to get your in order to get your hunting license, but… let’s be honest: how much of it do you really remember?
If the answer is anything less than 100% of it… well, read on!
Hunters—especially experienced hunters—have a tendency to overlook the fact that hunting is a dangerous activity. From spotting and stalking, to firing and harvesting, to field dressing and retrieval, the entire cycle is rife with dangers big and small.
So here, we’d like to remind you of some of the things you (hopefully!) learned in your hunting safety classes. This isn’t a complete list—there are so many thousands of situations you can face as a hunter, it would be impossible to address all of them–but the list below should hit on the most important topics, as well as some overlooked items that can keep you safe in a pinch.
Read ‘em, remember ‘em, and if you’ve got any tips you’d like us to add, jump over to our “Contact” page and drop us a line!
Learn the Ropes from an Experienced Hunter
We’ve seen a renewed interest in hunting over the last few years, and we’re pretty darn excited about that. But if you’re new to hunting, remember: it’s unwise to go it alone. An expedition with an experienced hunter can be the difference between a safe hunting experience and one that has the potential to go bad in an instant. The best way to learn the ropes is by accompanying someone who has “been there, done that.”
So ask a veteran hunter to be your mentor. Not only can you ask your mentor about game habits, stalking/ambush strategies, and hunter etiquette, but you can get “real-time” feedback and correction right in the moment.
And, just a bit of advice: it can’t hurt to offer to drive there and back, and maybe bring food for the trip!
No Drugs or Alcohol—Period
Not only is it against the law to consume drugs or alcohol when you’re hunting, but anything that impairs judgment or one’s hunting ability will 1) create the perfect scenario to have an accident or otherwise injure yourself, and 2) make you a less effective hunter. Your goal is to harvest game as quickly and painlessly as possible, and consumption of drugs and/or alcohol can weaken your abilities as a hunter.
Remember, too, that prescription drugs can impair your ability to focus and make wise decisions, so review your medication’s side effects to make sure they don’t include drowsiness or sleepiness. If you take meds that can impair your judgment, you may want to postpone that hunting trip until you’re off the meds—or to switch to meds that don’t have side effects that make you a dangerous to yourself and/or others.
Be Aware of One of the Most Dangerous Elements of Hunting, Which Is…
Tree stands. Yep, tree stands.
If you asked someone what they thought the most dangerous aspect of hunting might be, you’d probably gets answers ranging from “firearms” to “dangerous game.” And those are good guesses, and certainly elements that require care and consideration—but the majority of hunting accidents occur due to hunting stands.
So before you head back out, review the section in your hunting safety course dedicated to tree stands. Be sure to pick a tree that’s healthy, free of rot and damage, and stable, and select a tree stand that can support you, by reading (and re-reading) the stand’s specs—and do so at the beginning of every hunting season. Tree stands are made for hunters of specific weights, and your weight may go up or down on the off season—meaning you may need a new tree stand.
Also, be sure to use tested-and-approved safety harnesses, safety ropes, and straps that guard against falls of over 12-inches. Schedule periodic “gear wear-and-tear” inspections so you don’t miss a break or crack that can turn your safe haven into a 911 call. Yes, safety harnesses take a lot of time to use, but ask anyone who’s had an accident—and we’re all prone to accidents—and they’ll tell you it’s worth the extra time!
Use a Haul Line to Bring Your Gear Up to Your Tree Stand
Having applied due diligence to secure the tree stand/ladder steps to the tree, thoroughly inspect your gear before you ascend the trunk, and use a haul line to lift everything. DO NOT climb with weapons, gear, or clothing in your hands, over your shoulder, or strapped to your back.
When you’re ascending, move slowly, just in case there’s a glitch in your set-up, or you encounter some kind of hazardous condition. Not only is moving slowly the safest way to get to your perch, but it’s also a “best practice” when it comes to strategy—quick movements tend to be loud, and you don’t want to scare away any game that might be in your area.
Finally, adopt the “3-Point Rule” going up and down: always keep three points of contact between your body and whatever it is you’re climbing. That means either two hands and one foot, or two feet and one hand. Not only does the 3-Point Rule increase your odds of safety, but it also makes you focus on what you’re doing—and that also increases your odds of safety.
It may not be your favorite color for street clothing, but hunter orange should be your favorite color in-season. Not only does it alert you of the presence of other hunters—it alerts them of your presence, too!
Different states have different requirements regarding hunter orange—and you can find a list of those requirements at the Hunter Education Association Website—but even if your state doesn’t require you to wear orange, we’re here to tell you: it’s a pretty darn good idea.
(Quick note: if you’re hunting in a national forest, hunter orange is required, as you can see here).
Learn Firearm Safety Rules and Live by Them
An in-depth discussion of firearm safety is outside the scope of this post—and we’ve written about it here—but here’s a quick rundown of some rudimentary basics: always point your firearm in a safe direction, always assess the landscape for threats before you take aim, and identify your target and don’t depress the trigger until you are “ready to shoot.” And, of course, get into the habit of treating every fire arm you carry as if it was loaded and ready to be used.
Advise Others of Your Hunting Location
You probably heard this a number of times in your licensing class (and if you didn’t, you should have!): always let multiple people know where you’ll be hunting, as well as the route you plan to take to get to that hunting spot.
By notifying folks of where you’re going, you offer them a starting point should anything happen that requires a search party, rescue or emergency contact. Try to get as specific as you can, down to a compass point if you’re savvy enough, in order to pinpoint your intended destination.
Many hunters also choose to have a satellite phone or a personal locator beacon, tucked into a secure pocket, that will allow them to contact help if the going gets truly tough.
Don’t Depend Exclusively Upon Electronic Devices
Satellite phones and personal locator beacons are amazing, and they’ve saved many a life—but they’re electronic devices, and electronic devices are known to fail. Sometimes you can’t get service, sometimes they get damaged on a hunt, and sometimes the “ghost in the machine” gets ‘em and they just don’t work.
So always bring the gear your grandparents brought—a map, a headlamp, and your ABC: an altimeter, a barometer, and a compass—and learn how to use them. Yes, they’ll add a little more weight to your gear lineup, but if/when your electronic devices become useless, you’ll be pretty darn happy you have them—and know how to use them.
Replace Gear as Necessary
While we’re on the topic of gear, we should talk about responsibly replacing used equipment. Hunters, as a group, tend to be known for their thriftiness. And that’s a good thing—no need to buy something new, when some used will do.
But that mentality can lead us into the habit of not replacing essential hunting gear, garments, and tools, and anything that might cause you to compromise your safety should be repaired, discarded, or replaced.
Orange clothing can fade and the jacket that fit perfectly one season—or that scope you relied upon for accuracy—could both require attention down the road because your body and your eyes may have changed. Your chances of staying safe are better if you replace gear rather than becoming a victim of your own frugality.
Be the Weatherman
For many of us, hunting trips require careful orchestration to fit into work schedules, family plans, and vacation time, and it can be tempting to stick to a game plan despite last-minute changes in weather forecasts that have the potential to trigger everything from heat stroke to frostbite.
Sometimes, though, serious weather—whether it’s extensive rain, a serious cold snap, or even extremely hot/dry weather—can make hunting environments unsafe. Ultimately it’s a judgment call you’ll have to make, but in many cases, it’s better to reschedule than risk health and safety.
Hunt National Forests Wisely and Safely
You’ll never be 100% certain who else is in your hunting environment, and that’s especially true when your hunting on public and in national forests. Hikers and campers share this land with us, and they’re not always paying the same attention as hunters—in fact, hikers very often are totally oblivious to hunters who are
So always remember that you’re not the only one in the environment, and take proper precautions: be familiar with the area, clearly identify your target before shooting, and ALWAYS be alert when hunting near trails or developed areas.
Make Sure Your Maps are Up-to-Date
Online maps are incredibly helpful, and you can zoom into locations, plot paths, and plan for challenges in a way that’s difficult on regular maps. But they’re not without their downsides, and topological changes in a hunting environment aren’t always included in a map’s updates (and as we mentioned earlier, sometimes the electronic device on which you’re reading a map can run out of juice or simply stop working).
So double check your maps before you head out to make sure they’re up-to-date, and even better, call your state’s hunting department and ask if there are any environmental features you should know about. It’ll take a few extra minutes, but if there’s a bridge that’s out, or a river that’s swelled, or an avalanche on a ridge you plan on visiting—those are all things that can make you re-assess your plans.
Stay in Place, Keep Calm, and Call for Help
Should you become lost, injured, or overly fatigued, call for help, and shelter in place until that help arrives. That’s particularly true if you become injured or overly fatigued at night. Reach out and hunker down. You may not want to, but it’s the smart thing to do.
And, as with all things in life, be cool. If you let your worries/fear/anxiety get the best of you, your rational mind can… take some time off, let’s say—and that can sabotage your efforts to get back to familiar territory.
Be Honest About Your Skill Level
This is a tough one for many of us to admit: we’re all mortal men and women, and if you’re out-of-shape, a five-day backcountry hike-and-hunt may not be the best idea.
So when planning a hunt, be honest about your abilities (and don’t overestimate them), and at the same time, never underestimate how harsh Mother Nature can be. Choose the hunt that matches your physical competence—and if you’d like to go on a hunt that’s above your fitness ability, train for it! Do the work, get in shape, and when you’re ready, make it happen.
Expect the Unexpected… and Consider Insurance
Accidents do happen—that’s why they’re called accidents, and not plans—and they can happen to the best of us. Learning about—and possibly purchasing—hunting insurance can be a very, very good idea.
There are many different types of insurance policies available when it comes to hunting, but there are two types that are very common:
Hunting lease liability insurance (sometimes called hunting land liability insurance). This is usually for individual landowners, or hunting clubs/rod and gun clubs that own land, and plan on leasing it to hunters. There are legal risks when you lease your land, and an insurance policy can cover some of those risks.
Travel insurance. This is usually for individual hunters, and it covers anything from trip cancellations, to lost/stolen baggage, to medical evacuations from a site.
It can be a very good idea to learn about both before you lease your land, and before you head on land to hunt.
Protect Your Eyes and Your Ears
Fail to take eye and ear precautions and your hunting future could be jeopardized. Doctors specializing in hearing disorders report seeing cases of “Shooter’s Ear” every day, so invest in plugs and inserts designed to protect your hearing.
Eye protective measures are equally critical. Safety glasses protect eyes from ricocheting materials and can prevent powder, debris, and/or dirt from reaching your eyes, particularly if your firearm malfunctions. Choose lenses made of impact-resist poly carbonate and choose colors that enhance visual acuity and depth perception.
If You’re a Bowhunter…
Select your gear wisely, and be sure you’re not “overbowed.” Your state will have a minimum draw weight and you must meet it, but don’t go overboard—if you can’t draw an 80-pound bow, don’t select it for your hunt. Sure, it might deliver arrows with blistering speed and a lot of blunt force, but if you’re shaking like a leaf when you draw it, your chances of accuracy plummet.
Be sure the rest of your gear is up-to-snuff, as well: make sure your broadheads are as sharp as can be (and be careful when you’re sharpening them), keep your arrows in the quiver until it’s “go time,” and make sure your stabilizer, scope, and riser are all stable.
To read more, read our in-depth post on bowhunting safety tips.
Keep Your Dog Safe!
Before we dig in, remember: every state has its own rules when it comes to hunting with dogs, so you’ll need to call your state’s hunting department and go from there.
For those of you who are allowed to hunt with dogs, here are a couple “best practices.” Be sure to 1) get your dog’s shots updated before hunting season arrives; 2) condition and train him so he is obedient; 3) make sure he’s trim and in shape and once in the field; 4) carry a water bottle and emergency vet kit; 5) keep your vet’s phone number on speed dial so you can call if you have service and a problem arises that requires a professional; and 6) make sure your canine friend has a vest—camouflage is good, but if the situation allows it, hunter orange is better. In a hunting environment, dogs can easily be mistaken for game, and hunter orange will let other hunters know your dog is an ally.
Keep Your First Aid Kit Fully Stocked
Your first aid kit should be fully stocked at all times, and Wide Open Spaces provides a great list about what should be in your first aid kit.
With that in mind, here’s the problem we see again and again when hunters use a first-aid kit: they don’t re-stock items they’ve used, and over time, that’s a BIG problem. After attending to small nicks and cuts over the course of a few years, the supplies in a kit run dangerously low—or run out completely.
When you’re getting your gear ready, it’s not enough to check that your first aid kit is in your pack. You need to check the CONTENTS OF YOUR FIRST AID KIT, every time you head out, and re-fill it before every trip. That’s true no matter where you’re hunting—even if you’re just heading out to tree stands 100 yards off the trail. Your first aid kit should be fully stocked at all times.
Revisit Your Learning Materials
In every state, you need a hunting license, and to get a hunting license, you need to take a safety training course. That’s how it should be.
But just because you’ve taken and passed your hunting class doesn’t mean you’re done with your learning materials. Every season, you should re-visit the class materials, to get a brush-up on firearm safety, your local hunting laws, and how to be a responsible, ethical hunter.
This is especially true if you’re new to hunting. Ask any veteran hunter, and he or she will tell you that you will continue to learn over your entire hunting career—so always revisit your fundamentals. It’ll make you a safer—and more effective—hunter.
Take Extra Precautions When You’re Hunting Solo
As we mentioned earlier, if you’re new to hunting, you should head out with another person, or a group of people. If you’ve got extensive experience, you can go alone—and many hunters do—but always remember that solo hunting is a VERY dangerous affair, even if you’ve been hunting so long it feels second-nature. If something happens, you’ve got NO back-up. That may not be a big deal if something small and fixable happens, but if—God forbid—something happens and you need help quickly, you’re only as safe as help is near. Be extra careful when hunting alone, and make sure everything, literally everything is in tip-top shape: your gear, your communications equipment, and your first aid kits.
Job #1: Keep Kids Safe
Hunting is a tradition in many families, and we hope it stays that way—it’s difficult to get into hunting if you didn’t do it as a kid, and it’s up to parents to teach kids the ropes. There’s a lot to consider when bringing your child on his or her first hunting trips, and here are some things to keep in mind: 1) SAFETY FIRST. It’s our advice to make your first couple of hunting trips about teaching safety, waaaaay before you even consider harvesting an animal; and with that in mind… 2) set realistic goals—most new hunters go a seasons or two (or more!) before they harvest animal, so don’t send the message that a successful hunt is one where you harvest an animal. Sometimes even the best of us come home empty-handed, and that’s OK. And if your kids do actually harvest something… 3) be gentle with them if they get teary-eyed or weepy afterwards. Harvesting an animal is an emotionally-fraught thing to do, and it’s very, very common for kids to have a strong emotional reaction after doing so. A little crying doesn’t mean that hate hunting, or they hate you, or anything like that—they’re just feeling their way through things (like we all are!), so a little patience and understanding can go a long way.
Before we wrap up, here’s another important thing to keep in mind: your kids may be listening to the words you say, but they’re really watching what you do. Be mindful of your actions, because that’s what you’re really teaching them.
If you want to read more about the topic, Real Tree wrote a great article hunting with your kids.
Be Especially Careful While Handling Harvested Game
Non-hunters imagine harvesting an animal is dangerous, but they forget about field dressing game, which can also be dangerous. The fluids and organs associated with butchering can be just as dangerous, and safety measures to take include using only clean, sharp knives; wearing rubber or latex gloves; avoiding direct contact with bare skin; and avoiding gloveless contact with hunting dogs if they, too, made contact with carcasses. Also, if you’re bowhunting, move gingerly as you evacuate your game’s internal organs—it may be a rare occurrence, but broadheads sometimes get lodged inside an animal (and that’s double true for mechanical broadheads, that have moving parts).
After you handle your kill, burn or bury disposable gloves used for butchering and properly discard of carcass parts that are not going to be eaten. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for around 20 seconds, and sanitize your butchering tools with bleach.
Stay Fit to Avoid Injury
When we hear the phrase “hunting injuries,” we imagine some pretty scary things: puncture wounds, bear bites, avalanches, and so on. Those are all possible, but it’s the more common injuries—like a pulled muscle or a sprained knee—that get most hunters.
So adopt a year-round fitness routine to keep you strong and lithe. It can include bear crawls, shoulder carries, clean and jerk moves, tire drags, flips and pulls plus weighted step-ups, trail runs with burpees—whatever gets your heart rate pumping, takes off the extra weight, and keeps you nimble.
Use Extra Precaution on the Water
Wear a life jacket as a safety precaution (orange may not be necessary in your state, but again, it never hurts) and file a “float plan” with someone that divulges the area of the waterway you intend to travel.
Be especially cautious loading gear. Get into the habit of checking it before you load the boat, and when you do, distribute everything from bow to stern (front to back) and from port to starboard (left to right) to achieve the balance you seek so the boat won’t tip over.
Use Extra Caution When Hunting at Night
Most states have specific laws about hunting at hunt, and about what game you can and cannot hunt, so you’ll need to start there—but for those of you who will be hunting at night, be sure to visit the area during the day, to familiarize yourself with it—after you, you wouldn’t be the first hunter to spot a sink hole or impediment that would have been missed in the dark. Steer clear of using white light for night hunts, or you could spook game enough to make them dangerous—consider a hunting headlamp with a red or green filter, or a baseball hat mounted with a red/green light. If your budget is unlimited, the number of night observant devices on the market is growing, but nothing keeps hunters safer than being observant and cautious. Stay relatively close to your hunting mates, and be mindful of where each of you are.
Be Wary of Hunting with People You’ve Never Hunted with Before
If/when you plan a hunt with some new friends—or if you meet up with hunters in a hunting environment—be very observant of their behavior. You might imagine that we’ve all taken our safety classes, and gotten our hunting licenses, and we’re all know what we’re doing—and do it responsibly and respectfully. Sadly, that’s not always the case, and there are a lot of hunters out there who are sloppy and irresponsible. Hunting with them can be a drag at best, and dangerous at worst.
So keep an eye out when you’re out with people you’re just getting to know. If someone needs some guidance, give it diplomatically and kindly, so it has a better chance of getting through. And if worse comes to worst, and you think the behavior of your partners is going to cause an accident, head back. There will always be more hunting trips, and whatever trip you’re on isn’t worth risking your safety.
Face Emergencies by Thinking out of the Box
Sure, toothpaste keeps your teeth clean and pearly white—but did you know that you can ease the pain of a bee sting by applying toothpaste to your skin? It’s true, and it’s just one of the creative ways in which you can use your gear for your benefit. ideas hunters in a pinch have used when faced with situations that require a fast substitute during a crisis.
Take a look at your kit, and try to re-imagine a piece of gear to serve your needs. If you’ve got a roll of duct tape in your pack—and we recommend you do!—you can turn that roll into a lifesaving tool because it has so many uses. It can help start a fire, repair gear, and even use it as a butterfly stitch to heal a wound that could otherwise fester and become infected.
Have a Healthy Understanding of How Badly Mother Nature Can Mess You Up
We mentioned this earlier, but we’ll mention it again: despite her maternal name, Mother Nature doesn’t really care about you, particularly, and she can mess you up—and mess you up bad. Everyone thinks they’ll be safe, or that if they find themselves in dangerous situations, they’d figure out a way out of it—but thousands and thousands of smart, capable, able-bodied men and women die every year.
We don’t want to be downers about it, and we certainly don’t want to scare you away from your next hunting trip—just the opposite, in fact!—but it’s our job to preach safety. Always remember that hunting is dangerous, and you have to safe and responsible at all times.
Remember to Keep It Fun!
Alright, that last tip got a little dark, so let’s wrap it up with a happy tip: remember to keep it fun!
Hunting is a tremendously satisfying activity that can be shared with the people you love. Mankind has been hunting since—well, since the beginning of mankind!—and there’s something in us that is drawn to it. It’s an opportunity to strengthen family bonds, enjoy the nature all around us, and put some delicious food on the table. Share it with the people you love, and don’t forget to enjoy it while you’re doing it!
What Did We Miss?
As we’ve said, there’s no way for us to give you a complete list of safety tips—the situations you’ll face on a hunting expedition will be as much as grains of sand. But do you best to be prepared, be smart, and stay calm. After all, your mind is your best tool!
Did you we miss any tips? Do you have one you’d like us to add? Head over to our “Contact” page and drop us a line. We’d love to hear from you!